Commentary | Protect Public Space

The City of Montreal has launched a new plan called Montreal 2025 to improve various areas throughout the city with “whimsical” and “avant-garde projects.” The plan’s message, according to Mayor Gerald Tremblay, is that “city dwellers today want to live in ‘real’ places, ones that encourage the open-mindedness, social cohesion and inspiration they need for their own and their families’ well-being.”

As part of Montreal 2025, the Ville-Marie Borough, which is bounded by Sherbrooke, Atwater, and Bishop streets and the Ville-Marie expressway, has proposed a special planning program for the “urban development” and “revitalization” of the Shaughnessy Village, known as the Quartier des Grands Jardins. The program focuses on three aims: to improve the residential environment and services for residents, to showcase the area’s architectural heritage, and to boost the economy.   A key part of the $5.5 million program – slated to begin this year – involves the building of condos in Cabot Square, near the Atwater Metro.

Cabot Square is a public space largely frequented by homeless people and often used as the starting point for public initiatives; for instance, the annual Montreal Sisters in Spirit Memorial March and Vigil in commemoration of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The recent “revitalization” efforts are part of a trend of the construction of condominiums. Last September, the old, unused Seville theatre across from Cabot Square was torn down to make way for a $100 million condo with 350 units. If this construction is an indication of what is to come, most of the housing in this area will soon be unaffordable to the majority of people living in the area.  This is worrying because, when expensive condos are constructed, low-income residents tend to be pushed out due to rising rents and costs of living.

Preliminary consultations were done by a jury within the Canadian Centre for Architecture  in 2008. This past August, the Office of Public Consultation Montreal released a report in which the “large majority of citizens and organizations who commented” deemed the Cabot project as “timely” with full support of the plans.  The city is inviting residents of the area to give their opinion on the proposed plans. This strategy narrows the scope of opinion influencing the project. Regardless of where you live, you should mobilize against this project given the implications it has for your fellow Montrealers.

Furthermore, the consultations effectively excluded many of the residents who currently use this space. Often those most marginalized in our society lack a political voice or access to processes such as the City’s consultation on Cabot Square.

The language of revitalization and redevelopment is problematic, as “revitalization” implies that the space that exists now is inadequate, rather than a thriving community. With elevated housing prices and the systematic exclusion of the homeless population, Montreal 2025 is not a “revitalized” or “redeveloped” makeover effort – instead, it is the gentrification of a quarter that has been known as a lower-income area since the mid-1990s. The City’s construction project takes steps that push current residents and those who frequent the area out. It is emblematic of the continuing systemic problems that plague these kinds of projects. Positive change should not come at the expense of any members of our community.

The time is now to make noise about Montreal 2025, as the Cabot Square project is currently, according to the project’s website, in “incubation.” Students can also contact a newly formed joint QPIRG Concordia – QPIRG McGill working group called Right to the City at antigentrification@gmail.com. We should occupy the streets on behalf of those made unwelcome in their own quarter.


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